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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight

alcock-and-brownBritish aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight, landing at Clifden, County Galway on June 15, 1919. They fly a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presents them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in “less than 72 consecutive hours.” A small amount of mail is carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight.

Alcock and Brown take off from Lester’s Field at around 1:45 PM on June 14. They fly the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines which are supported by an on-site Rolls Royce team led by engineer Eric Platford.

It is not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft has difficulty taking off from the rough field and only barely misses the tops of the trees. A short time later the wind-driven electrical generator fails, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating. An exhaust pipe bursts shortly afterwards, causing a frightening noise which makes conversation impossible without the failed intercom.

At 5:00 PM they have to fly through thick fog. This is serious because it prevents Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they do not have, and Alcock twice loses control of the aircraft and nearly hits the sea after a spiral dive. Alcock also has to deal with a broken trim control that makes the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel is consumed.

At 12:15 AM on June 15 Brown gets a glimpse of the stars and is able to use his sextant, and finds that they are still on course. By this point, their electric heating suits have failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit.

Then at 3:00 AM they fly into a large snowstorm. They are drenched by rain, their instruments ice up, and the plane is in danger of icing and becoming unflyable. The carburetors also ice up.

Alcock and Brown make landfall in County Galway at 8:40 AM on June 15, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying time. The aircraft is damaged upon arrival because of an attempt to land on what appears from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turns out to be a bog, near Clifden, but neither of the airmen is hurt. Brown says that if the weather had been good they could have pressed on to London.

Alcock and Brown are treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail award of £10,000, the crew receives 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean. The two aviators are awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.

Alcock and Brown fly to Manchester on July 17, where they are given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Manchester, and awards to mark their achievement.

John Alcock is killed on December 18, 1919 when he crashes near Rouen while flying the new Vickers Viking amphibian to the Paris Air Show. Arthur Brown dies on October 4, 1948. Two memorials commemorating the flight are sited near the landing spot in County Galway. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden, around 500 metres from the spot where they land, on the site of Guglielmo Marconi‘s first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmit their success to London. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft’s tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on June 15, 1959, the fortieth anniversary of their landing.

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RMS Titanic Departs Southampton, England

titanic-departing-southampton-dockThe RMS Titanic leaves port in Southampton, England for her first and only voyage on April 10, 1912. Built by the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, the RMS Titanic is the second of the three Olympic-class ocean liners — the first being the RMS Olympic and the third being the HMHS Britannic.

Following the embarkation of the crew the passengers begin arriving at 9:30 AM, when the London and South Western Railway‘s boat train from London Waterloo station reaches Southampton Terminus railway station on the quayside, alongside RMS Titanic‘s berth. In all, 923 passengers board RMS Titanic at Southampton, 179 First Class, 247 Second Class and 494 Third Class. The large number of Third Class passengers means they are the first to board, with First and Second Class passengers following up to an hour before departure. Stewards show them to their cabins, and First Class passengers are personally greeted by Captain Edward Smith upon boarding. Third Class passengers are inspected for ailments and physical impairments that might lead to their being refused entry to the United States, a prospect the White Star Line wishes to avoid, as it would have to carry anyone who fails the examination back across the Atlantic. A total of 922 passengers are recorded as embarking on RMS Titanic at Southampton. Additional passengers are to be picked up at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown.

The maiden voyage begins on time, at noon. An accident is narrowly averted only a few minutes later as RMS Titanic passes the moored liners SS City of New York of the American Line and what would have been her running mate on the service from Southampton, White Star’s RMS Oceanic. Her huge displacement causes both of the smaller ships to be lifted by a bulge of water and then dropped into a trough. SS City of New York‘s mooring cables cannot take the sudden strain and snap, swinging her around stern-first towards RMS Titanic. A nearby tugboat, Vulcan, comes to the rescue by taking SS City of New York under tow, and Captain Smith orders RMS Titanic‘s engines to be put “full astern.” The two ships avoid a collision by a matter of about 4 feet. The incident delays RMS Titanic‘s departure for about an hour, while the drifting SS City of New York is brought under control.

After making it safely through the complex tides and channels of Southampton Water and the Solent, RMS Titanic heads out into the English Channel. She heads for the French port of Cherbourg, a journey of 77 nautical miles. The weather is windy, very fine but cold and overcast. Four hours after RMS Titanic leaves Southampton, she arrives at Cherbourg and is met by the tenders SS Traffic and the SS Nomadic which have to be used to transfer passengers from shore to ship because Cherbourg lacks docking facilities for a ship the size of RMS Titanic. An additional 274 passengers are taken aboard. Twenty-four passengers who have booked passage only cross-channel from Southampton leave aboard the tenders to be conveyed to shore. The process is completed in about 90 minutes. At 8:00 PM RMS Titanic weighs anchor and departs for Queenstown on the south coast of Ireland with arrival scheduled late the following morning.

(Pictured: RMS Titanic departing the Southampton docks on April 10, 1912)


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Birth of Arctic Explorer Robert McClure

robert-mcclureSir Robert John Le Mesurier McClure, Irish explorer of the Arctic, is born in Wexford, County Wexford on January 28, 1807.

McClure is the posthumous son of one of James Abercrombie‘s captains, first cousin of Oscar Wilde and spends his childhood under the care of his godfather, General John Le Mesurier, governor of Alderney, by whom he is educated for the army. The McClures are of Highland Scots ancestry, being a sept of Clan MacLeod of Harris. He enters the navy, however, in 1824, and twelve years later gains his first experience of Arctic exploration as mate of HMS Terror in the expedition (1836–1837) commanded by Captain George Back.

Upon his return he obtains his commission as lieutenant, and from 1838 to 1839 serves on the Canadian lakes, being subsequently attached to the North American and West Indian naval stations, where he remains until 1846. Two years later he joins John Franklin‘s search expedition (1848–1849) under James Clark Ross as first lieutenant of HMS Enterprise.

After he returns from the first Franklin search expedition, a new search expedition is launched in 1850, with Richard Collinson commanding the HMS Enterprise and McClure, as his subordinate, given the command of HMS Investigator. The two ships set out from England, sail south on the Atlantic Ocean, navigate through the Strait of Magellan to the Pacific Ocean with the assistance of steam-sloop HMS Gorgon, where they become separated and have no further contact for the rest of their respective journeys.

The HMS Investigator sails north through the Pacific and enters the Arctic Ocean by way of the Bering Strait, and sails eastward past Point Barrow, Alaska to eventually link up with another British expedition from the northwest. Although the HMS Investigator is abandoned to the pack ice in the spring of 1853, McClure and his crew are rescued by a party from the HMS Resolute, one of the ships under the command of Sir Edward Belcher that are sailing from the east, after a journey over the ice by sledge. Subsequently he completes his journey across the Northwest Passage. HMS Resolute itself does not make it out of the Arctic that year and is abandoned in ice, but later recovered. The wood from that ship becomes quite famous later.

Thus, McClure and his crew are the first both to circumnavigate the Americas, and to transit the Northwest Passage, considerable feats at that time. The HMS Enterprise, meanwhile, having arrived at Point Barrow in 1850 a fortnight later than the HMS Investigator, finds its passage blocked by winter ice and has to turn back and return the following year.

Upon his return to England, in 1854, McClure is court martialed for the loss of the HMS Investigator, which is automatic when a captain loses his ship. Following an honourable acquittal, he is knighted and promoted to post-rank, his commission being dated back four years in recognition of his special services. McClure and his crew share a great monetary reward of £10,000 awarded them by the British Parliament. He subsequently is also awarded gold medals by the English and French geographical societies. In 1855 he is elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.

From 1856 to 1861 McClure serves in Eastern waters, commanding the division of the Naval Brigade before Canton in 1858, for which he receives a CB in the following year. His latter years are spent in a quiet country life. He attains the rank of rear admiral in 1867, and of vice admiral in 1873. He dies on October 17, 1873 and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

McClure Strait is later named after Robert McClure, as well as the crater McClure on the Moon.


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Transatlantic Flight of “Wrong Way” Corrigan

Douglas Corrigan, an American aviator born in Galveston, Texas, earns the nickname “Wrong Way” Corrigan on July 17, 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, California, to New York City, he flies from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan is filed to return to Long Beach. He claims his unauthorized flight is due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscures landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. However, he is a skilled aircraft mechanic and has made several modifications to his own plane, preparing it for his transatlantic flight. He had been denied permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland, and his “navigational error” is seen as deliberate. Nevertheless, he never publicly admits to having flown to Ireland intentionally.

On July 9, 1938, Corrigan departs California in his 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane bound for Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. With the Robin cruising at 85 miles per hour (137 km/h) for maximum fuel efficiency, the outward journey takes him 27 hours. Fuel efficiency becomes critical towards the end of the flight as a gasoline leak develops, filling the cockpit with fumes.

Upon his unannounced arrival at Floyd Bennett Field, in the midst of Howard Hughes‘s preparations for takeoff on a world tour, Corrigan decides repairing the leak will take too long if he is to meet his schedule. His logged flight plan has him returning to California on July 17. Before take off, Corrigan asks the manager of Floyd Bennett Field, Kenneth P. Behr, which runway to use, and Behr tells him to use any runway as long as he does not take off to the west, in the direction of the administration building where Behr has his office. As recorded in Corrigan’s autobiography, Behr wishes him “Bon Voyage” prior to take-off, perhaps in a nod to Corrigan’s intentions to fly the Atlantic. Upon take off at 5:15 on the morning of July 17 with 320 US gallons of gasoline and 16 US gallons of oil, Corrigan heads east from the 4,200-foot runway of Floyd Bennett Field and keeps going. Behr later swears publicly that he has no foreknowledge of Corrigan’s intentions.

Corrigan claims to have noticed his “error” after flying for about 26 hours. This is not entirely consistent with his claim that after 10 hours, he feels his feet go cold. The cockpit floor is awash with gasoline leaking from the unrepaired tank. He uses a screwdriver to punch a hole through the cockpit floor so that the fuel will drain away on the side opposite the hot exhaust pipe, reducing the risk of a midair explosion. Had he been truly unaware he was over ocean, it seems likely he would descend at this point. Instead, he claims to increase the engine speed by almost 20% in the hope of decreasing his flight time.

Corrigan lands at Baldonnel Aerodrome, County Dublin, on July 18, after a 28-hour, 13-minute flight. His provisions for the flight consisted of just two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and 25 US gallons of water. Corrigan’s plane has fuel tanks mounted on the front, allowing him to see only out of the sides. He has no radio and his compass is 20 years old.

Aviation officials require 600 words to list the regulations broken by his flight in a telegram, a medium that encourages brevity by charging at a rate per word. Despite the extent of Corrigan’s illegality, he receives only a mild punishment a his pilot’s certificate is suspended for 14 days. He and his plane return to New York on the steamship Manhattan and arrive on August 4, the last day of his suspension. His return is marked with great celebration. More people attend his Broadway ticker tape parade than had honored Charles Lindbergh after his triumph. He is also given a ticker tape parade in Chicago.


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King James I Grants License for Old Bushmills Distillery

King James I grants a license to Sir Thomas Phillips, landowner and Governor of County Antrim, for the Old Bushmills distillery on April 20, 1608. The distillery is thought to date from at least 1276 making it the oldest distillery in the world.

The Bushmills Old Distillery Company itself is not established until 1784 by Hugh Anderson. Bushmills suffers many lean years with numerous periods of closure with no record of the distillery being in operation in the official records both in 1802 and in 1822. In 1860 a Belfast spirit merchant named Jame McColgan and Patrick Corrigan purchase the distillery and in 1880 they form a limited company. In 1885, the original Bushmills buildings are destroyed by fire but the distillery is quickly rebuilt. In 1890, the steamship SS Bushmills, owned and operated by the distillery, makes its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to deliver Bushmills whiskey to America. It calls at Philadelphia and New York City before heading on to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Yokohama.

In the early 20th century, the United States is a very important market for Bushmills, as well as for other Irish Whiskey producers. American Prohibition in 1920 comes as a large blow to the Irish Whiskey industry, but Bushmills manages to survive. Wilson Boyd, Bushmills’ director at the time, predicts the end of prohibition and has large stores of whiskey ready to export. After the World War II, the distillery is purchased by Isaac Wolfson and, in 1972, it is taken over by Irish Distillers, meaning that Irish Distillers controls the production of all Irish whiskey at the time. In June 1988, Irish Distillers is bought by French liquor group Pernod Ricard.

In June 2005, the distillery is bought by Diageo for £200 million. Diageo announces a large advertising campaign in order to regain market share for Bushmills.

In May 2008, the Bank of Ireland issues a new series of sterling banknotes in Northern Ireland which all feature an illustration of the Old Bushmills Distillery on the obverse side, replacing the previous notes series which depicts Queen’s University Belfast.

In November 2014 it is announced that Diageo is to trade the Bushmills brand with Jose Cuervo in exchange for the 50% of the Don Julio brand of tequila that Diageo does not already own.

Some Bushmills offerings have performed well at international Spirits ratings competitions. In particular, its Black Bush Finest Blended Whiskey receives double gold medals at the 2007 and 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competitions. It also receives a well-above-average score of 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute in 2008 and 2011.


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Hurricane Debbie Strikes Ireland

hurricane-debbieHurricane Debbie, the most powerful cyclone on record to strike Ireland in September and possibly the only tropical cyclone on record to ever strike the British Isles while still tropical, makes landfall in Ireland on September 16, 1961.

The fourth named storm of the 1961 Atlantic hurricane season, Debbie originates from a well-defined tropical disturbance that is first identified in late August over Central Africa. Tracking generally westward, the system moves off the coast of Senegal on September 5 into the Atlantic Ocean. By this time, it is estimated to have become a tropical storm, but forecasters do not issue advisories on the system until two days later. Late on September 6, Debbie passes through the southern Cape Verde Islands as a strong tropical storm or minimal hurricane, resulting in a plane crash that kills 60 people in the islands. Once clear of the islands, data on the storm becomes sparse and the status of Debbie is uncertain over the following several days as it tracks west-northwestward and later northward. It is not until a commercial airliner intercepts the storm on September 10 that its location becomes certain. The following day, Debbie intensifies and reaches its peak intensity as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale, with maximum winds of 120 mph.

Maintaining its peak intensity for over a day, the hurricane gradually slows its forward motion and weakens. By September 13, Debbie’s motion becomes influenced by the Westerlies, causing the system to accelerate east-northeastward. The system passes over the western Azores as a minimal hurricane on September 15. At this point, there is uncertainty as to the structure of Debbie, whether it transitions into an extratropical cyclone or maintains its identity as a tropical system. Regardless of which takes place, the system deepens as it nears the British Isles, skirting the coast of Western Ireland on September 16. Shortly thereafter, the system is confirmed to have become extratropical as it continues towards the northeast.

Striking Ireland as a powerful storm, Debbie brings record winds to much of the island, with a peak gust of 114 mph measured just offshore. These winds cause widespread damage and disruption, downing tens of thousands of trees and power lines. Countless structures sustain varying degrees of damage, with many smaller buildings destroyed. Agriculture experiences extensive losses to barley, corn, and wheat crops. Throughout Ireland, Debbie kills 18 people, twelve in the Republic of Ireland and six in Northern Ireland. It causes $40–50 million in damage in the Republic and at least $4 million in Northern Ireland. The storm also batters parts of Great Britain with winds in excess of 100 mph.

The remnants of the storm later turned eastward, striking Norway and Russia, before dissipating on September 19.


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1947 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final

1947-all-ireland-finalFor the first and only time, the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final is played outside Ireland on September 14, 1947, at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan, New York City, to cater for the large Irish-American community there.

The New York final matching Cavan against Kerry is also intended to observe the centenary of the Great Famine that triggered mass Irish emigration to the United States and other countries. Around 30,000 people are in attendance for the final. Cavan travels to the U.S. by air and Kerry by sea. The Ulster team credits their victory partially to their shorter time spent travelling. The Cavan team flight, via the Azores, takes 30 hours. Kerry’s trip by Ocean Liner takes far longer.

Mick Higgins, a key member of the Cavan team that day, recalls later in life, “There was no huge send-off for us in Cavan, but both teams got a good reception in New York when we arrived. I remember the team stayed in the Commodore Hotel, but I stayed with my relatives.” He also remembers the “oppressive heat” during the game itself.

After a slow start, Cavan fights back to lead 2-5 to 2-4 at the break and goes on to win by four points. Peter Donohoe scores eight points from frees and is called “the Babe Ruth of Gaelic football” in the New York press. The match commentary was broadcast by radio across the Atlantic Ocean by Michael O’Hehir.

The Cavan team returns to Ireland aboard the RMS Queen Mary. Higgins recalls, “It was only after we arrived in Southampton that we realised the joy of it all. Large numbers of Cavan people turned up to see us in London and Birmingham. We were treated like kings in Cavan.”